story by Catharine Lo
portrait by Dana Edmunds
It’s been a banner year for graduates of Kahuku High School. Viliami Nauahi, class of 2003, walked off the set of Wheel of Fortune with a winning pot of $47,000. Singer-songwriter Jack Johnson, class of 1993, headlined a DC inaugural ball and sang for Barack and Michelle. Aaron Francisco and Chris Kemoeatu, both class of 2001, played on opposing teams in the Super Bowl: Aaron for the Arizona Cardinals and Chris for the Pittsburgh Steelers. The school’s own football team, the Red Raiders, secured a divisional crown in a double-overtime victory.
Kahuku High’s greatest recent success story, though, has got to be Natasha Kai, class of 2001, who went to the Beijing Olympics and came home with a gold medal. Along with the gold has come international exposure for the 26-year-old
professional soccer player: She starred in Nike commercials. Clips on YouTube called attention to her on-the-field seriousness and off-the-field antics. She was asked to be on Oprah (an invitation she declined). The media fussed over her multiple body piercings and tattoos, which some admired and others derided. Natasha shrugs off the scrutiny. “That’s the way I look,” she says. “People think, ‘She’s a rock star. She’s a gangster.’ I just laugh.”
In the midst of her growing fame, Natasha has stayed true to her roots, loyal to the little town of Kahuku with its population of just 2,100. It sits on O‘ahu’s northeast shore, smack dab between the surf-rich North Shore and the jungle-rich Windward side and largely dismissed (by the unknowing at least) as a coastal backwater with little going for it but sweet corn and shrimp trucks. Natasha, of course, knows better. In media interviews, she thanked loyal neighbors who bought T-shirts, autographed photos and sold plate lunches to send her family to Beijing. With staunch Kahuku pride, she declared herself “a Red Raider for life.”